Why A Wilderness Trail For Your School?
“Why wilderness? Because it is the best classroom in the world.” ~ Sir Laurens van der Post CBE
It seems uncanny that Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela recognised over 60 years ago that people- in particular young people – were becoming increasingly disconnected from their natural surroundings. Fast forward to today when, from early childhood television, cell phones, social media, security, lifestyle and trends all conspire to further disconnect people from nature.
Perhaps it is unfair to say children are disconnected when from an early age parents are not actively encouraging their children to play in the sand, run in the rain, climb trees, love and respect all creatures great and small. When did you last hear of a father spending the time with his daughters and sons building a tree house? No trees in a cement jungle perhaps.
Whatever the cause, the symptoms of this disconnect manifest themselves in aberrant behaviour, social maladjustment, substance abuse and more. The world over, therapists are united in the simple solution of getting more and more people back into nature. The good news is that with realisation of the threat to our planet by irresponsible environmental behaviour more people are now looking for ways in which to correct the ills of the past and seek a better future and academics and school authorities are recognising that organisations such as Wilderness Leadership School provide a solution in the form of trails, environmental leadership and community development.
The Benefits Of A Wilderness Trail
The Wilderness Leadership School enjoys a relationship of generations of students from many of the schools, private and government, in SA and in the UK. For the past 60 years these schools have been sending groups on trail. Testimonials from these schools on the five and ten day trails bear testament to the value of bringing young people back into a natural wild environment. After divesting these young students of their iphones, ipads, watches etc – sometimes akin to removing a limb – they overcome their withdrawal and settle in to the unknown zone of the natural world. With this comes fear of the unknown and for some, the realisation that perhaps for the first time they are making sound decisions without the input of a parent. This in itself is an empowering moment and brings with it aspects of rites of passage (lacking in most modern western societies today)
The many aspects of leadership develop on trail in ways that are subtle and non - challenging. The very aspect of respecting (hlonipe) the absolute authority of the guides is a life lesson in itself. The guides are to a trail as an airline pilot to his passengers or a sea captain to his crew and passengers. Safety on trail is paramount and over its 60 year existence the WLS can boast an unblemished history. To this end we do not compromise and the guides are highly trained in both hard and soft skills. For many people, their first time in the wild holds anxiety and the fear of reptiles, insects and of course the larger more charismatic creatures is very real. This is a natural and necessary level of transformation which we all need information and guidance to overcome – again, part of a wilderness guide’s training.
Trails are transformative and knowledge is the key to transformation. A trail is not an endurance performance or a lesson in the Latin name of the apex predator or its prey. It is a time to exist for that period in a wild place that itself opens up a vista of opportunity for knowledge and recognition of our primordial past and our DNA and that we actually belong in nature. It is the built environment that is the foreign land!
Time and time again, we see the change in people occurring over the period of time in the wilderness so that it comes as no surprise that trailists are reluctant to leave and it requires some adjustment to return to the ‘normal’ world but the lessons of the wild remain and are transferred to life in leadership decision making, inter- personal behaviours, responsible environmental advocacy, team building and respect for all living organisms. That almost all trailists become ambassadors for a natural experience is embellished in the trail journals that each trailist is encouraged to keep and the communication that we receive regularly from people who went on trail decades ago and who today recognise this as a turning point in their lives.
Some of these quotes from young adults' trail journals speaks volumes about the experience, an experience that is really quite difficult to put into words
"I'm going to miss this, the adrenalin, the protection of nature, I like it, when I go to lay down and sleep, I feel like I have accomplished something"
"Knowing your friends lives are in your hands, gives me a burst of adrenalin, or maybe it's just the lions roaring doing it"
"Night watch seems to make me deep, you are a child of the universe, no less than trees or stars, in the busy confusion of life, find peace in your soul...over and out"
"Some things you just never understand, some things you do, I have a lot of questions running through my head, some things really don't matter, like time, I have just lived my life without time for four days and it really didn't make any difference to my life"
"Being out here has shown me that Facebook and Mixit are not the only way to live life"
Outcomes Of A Wilderness Trail
- Outcomes of trail experience are improvement in the areas of:
- Decision making
- Team building
- Knowledge of flora, fauna and insects
- Interpersonal behaviours
- Breaking down the barriers of the built and the natural world
- Opening up dialogue and opportunity to give voice to mature concerns
- Appreciation of solitude
- An increased capacity to “listen and hear”
- Aspects of Rites of passage - personal development
- Concepts of career choice
- Inter -cultural and language engagement
- A new language to interpret the natural world, climate change and threats to species
- Spiritual/natural insight
- Life orientation
- Ignite interest in finding solutions to current threats to our environment
- Involvement with altruistic activities
- Presidents Award participation – Silver and Gold
- Social networking in a focus group
Designed to complement the trail experience, a community homestay provides an opportunity for youth from local and international schools to interact on an immersive basis with villagers and local youth. These programmes conform to the requirements of the President’s Award and Duke of Edinburgh Gold standards.
A cultural immersion in the lives of rural villagers provides insight into traditional ways and history of the region.
In this form of community based tourism accommodation the visitors live with a host family and partake of life in the same way as the rest of the family. They cook and fend and live with a local family thus gaining local knowledge about the flora , fauna and social integration.
The programme is further designed to support local projects and development plans:
- Arts, crafts and cultural activities
- Traditional wisdom exposure
- Social entrepreneurship
- Health and wellness integration programmes
- Support local conservation campaigns
- Revenue stream for hosting families
Educational benefits accrue to the communities and surrounding schools in the form of:
- Assist local teachers with special projects
- Spark debating team challenges
- Assist in developing social media platforms for networking with visiting youth
- Explore language and cultural exchange and cross pollinate social values
- Teacher training through co teaching opportunities and cross pollination of learning methods
General outcomes of the programme support the move towards responsible eco tourism and in so doing benefit the communities through:
- Social enterprise
- Assistance with the building of media centres, schools and crèches
- Organic gardens
- Increased tourism
- Cooking- the visitors are encouraged to showcase their own traditional meals by cooking a feast for the hosting families
- General community upliftment through an increased revenue stream and micro job creation and skills development
- An understanding of the imbedded leadership philosophy of the Wilderness Leadership School which seeks to develop and connect young people to their natural environment through experiences which shape their lives and inform their future.
- Nondomiso village in rural Zululand (Can be combined with an iMfolozi Trail)
- Manteku Village on the pristine Wildcoast (Can be combined with a Wild Coast Trail)
55 Years Incident Free Safety Record
Schools from all over the world have been using the Wilderness Leadership School for over 55 years, the late Dr Ian Player was the first chairman of the President's Awards and was instrumental in getting the Duke Of Edinburgh Awards Program entrenched in our education system. These programs are Testament to the highest level of standards, safety and experience you can expect on a Schools Trail With Wilderness Leadership School.
Trail Duration and Essential Info
- 2, 3 or 5 day trails available
- Each trail accommodates between six and eight trailists
- Each trail is led by experienced, armed guides
- We eat and sleep under the stars
- No sophistication (including cellphone, watches, music or liquor)
- The duration of daily wilderness walks is customized for your comfort
- Available in iMfolozi, Drakensberg, Wild Coast, Pilansberg and The Okavango (Botswana)